Long time friend Sal was back over from London and having remebered what we had for dinner last time she was over, got another invite and to make a request. Meat but not beef or seafood and lamb somewhere else left me with three choice of rabbit, quail, or duck. Toni picked duck.
I chose this recipe because I’d seen something similar on that show on SBS about Australian food and a three stage cooking process seemed and interesting thing to try. I’ve found a recipe in what seems to be my sole source of Chinese recipes – Yan-Kit’s Classic Chinese Cookbook. It’s not very glam but it’s a nicely functional book that covers most areas and techniques and the recipes work. I find it ideal for me as someone who hasn’t mastered Chinese food enough to do too much messing around on basic principles. Actually there’s a bit of messing around with the recipe. The main consideration is time and you need to allow about two and a half hours for cooking.
I bought a 2.1kg duck which was only about $18 and deboned it to make it more managable for cooking and carving and just because I enjoy it. [instructions here]. Once you’ve deboned slice it down the middle into two pieces. The wings are a little unwiedly so I removed them and use them for the stock. Taking the ends of the drumsticks off with a cleaver is a good idea too. Also remove the tail and excessively fatty bits (no don’t be sad, we can use these later). Rub it with salt and leave for as close an amount of time as overnight as you can and then rinse in hot water and dry. It this had been a whole duck I was supposed to rub the cavity with saltpetre but I’ve no idea why.
Get a wok, line the base with foil and place 4tbs of jasmine tea leaves; 1.5 cups of flour; and half a cup of brown sugar in the center. Place the duck on a steamer bottom or a rack, clear of the tea etc, and place a tight fitting cover over it. Get the heat up to a level where there’s a good amount of smoke happening and then smoke for 30 minutes, turning the duck once
Mix together two cm pieces of ginger (bruised); 2 large spring onions (chopped), one star anise (broken up); 2tsp of szechuan peppercorns; and 2tbs of chinese rice wine (shaohsing). Divide it equally. Place one half of the duck in a heatproof bowl, put the mix on top, place the other duck half on top and top with the rest of the mix. Place the bowl in a steamer, the steamer in a wok, cover, fill the wok with water up to the sides of the steamer and steam for one hour.
As the duck is in a bowl the liquid will accumulate in the base so swap the pieces over during the steaming.
Take the duck out and dry. Discard the mix.
Place corn oil in the wok and bring up to 190C, test with a piece of bread, it should brown in under a minute. Place the piece of duck in the oil and fry for about two minutes on each side to crisp it, and repeat with the other piece.
Brush the skin with sesame oil and keep warm.
Place all the duck bones, neck, and wings in a saucepan with a sliced stick of celery, a couple of chopped spring onions, two dried shiitake mushrooms, and enough water to cover. Allow to simmer for 2 hours, skimming the top as necessary. Strain and reduce over heat to taste.
I wasn’t sure where to go from here so I added a couple of star anise and a splash of rice wine and let it simmer a little longer. I used it to stir-fry the greens and as a glaze over the duck.
A bunch of chinese greens (not sure of the name – white stalks) trimmed up to where the stalk meets the leaf and a bunch of asparagus. Stir-fried with garlic and ginger and finished with a little of the stock.
Slice up the duck and place it on the greens, garnish with some spring onion greens and pour a little of stock on each person’s plate.
Very nice, perhaps a shade moister would have helped. The smokiness was the dominant flavour but not over so. Duck is very rich so the dish was very filling and we had to have a breather between dessert. A sorbet would have hit the spot, or maybe a nice lychini.
I thought the smoking technique was very interesting and wonder what role the flour had in it all. Mysteries. And following on from last night’s topic, does anyone else find describing how food tastes, a pain the arse?
Update: Oh here we go then – Despite the earthy foundation of meat the flavours have the ethereal carriers of smoke and steam as if the dish were a meeting of profanity and sublimity and the interface of the living and the spirit world so loved in Chinese ghost stories. Similarly time and space weigh in with the past years of childhood of the licorice tastes of the star anise; the distant season of the spring onions; and the locality of the szechuan peppercorns, all speaking from afar with their muted tones. Grounding us back in the now is the crisp crunch of the deep fried skin skin and consoling us with death is the vivid green of the vegetables whose colour is from light itself.